LA County’s pivotal 2023 homeless count is launched by Mayor Bass

Cutting loose hundreds of volunteers into the sprawling county’s dark streets, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual homeless count kicked off on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Volunteers Benjamin Ainsworth and Afzal Amanda Walk on Lankershim Boulevard as they start out on their homeless count. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News, SCNG)

Volunteers hit the streets in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys — and in Pasadena, which runs it own independent count — to log the number of people living in tents, cars or otherwise unsheltered, and to gauge how many needed services such as mental health or substance abuse treatment.

At a glance: L.A. County tallies its unhoused

In a sweeping annual statistical ritual that can be pivotal in shaping state and federal funding, as well as how local agencies craft their aid and outreach strategies, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is staging its point-in-time audit of unhoused residents this week.

Amid emergency declarations, battles over funding, increasing scrutiny of LAHSA’s effectiveness and politicians facing unprecedented outrage from the public, this could be among the most important audits in the region’s history.

Each year, LAHSA assembles scores of volunteer teams to conduct the survey of people experiencing homelessness — in shelters, on the streets or in vehicles — in most of the county’s cities and unincorporated areas.

Pasadena, Long Beach and Glendale, meanwhile, will compile their own independent surveys this week.

Here are the homeless survey dates this week:

LAHSA | Jan. 24-26:

Tuesday: San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley volunteers.
Wednesday: Eastside and west L.A. area volunteers.
Thursday: South L.A., metro L.A., and Antelope Valley volunteers.

Glendale | Jan. 26

Long Beach | Jan. 26

Pasadena | Jan. 24-Jan. 25:

Tuesday: 8-10 p.m.
Wednesday: 6-8 a.m.

Southern California News Group’s coverage this week:

Sunday: The homeless count impacts complex issues that place it under an even more intense spotlight this year. They include the governor’s move to connect those who lack permanent shelter with mental health services in “CARE Courts”; emergency declarations by the city of Los Angeles and L.A. County and a new, popular Los Angeles mayor who is not waiting for a honeymoon period to tackle the crisis.

MondayWhile some consider the count a precise gathering of statistics, others call it a rough “guesstimate” at best; a close look at the strengths and weaknesses of the count’s methodology shows that reality lies somewhere in between.

Tuesday: Gov. Newsom’s CARE Court strategy aims to reinvent getting mental health care to people who need it, especially people living on the street. How will it work?

Today: Mayor Bass kicks off  the count.

Coming Tomorrow: On the streets with the volunteer counters.

The three-day count was scheduled to continue Wednesday in east and west Los Angeles and Pasadena, and on Thursday in South L.A., central L.A. and the Antelope Valley. Counts will also be conducted in Glendale and Long Beach on Thursday.

LAHSA’s “point-in-time” homeless count occurs annually, but this year’s endeavor is getting an extra dose of attention, coming at a time when local, state and federal officials have all identified homelessness as a priority issue.

Facing the crisis head-on right away, new L.A. Mayor Karen Bass declared a local state of emergency on homelessness in mid-December, as did the L.A. County Board of Supervisors a month later.

In the final days leading up to the count, Bass sent out emails to Angelenos urging them to volunteer to help count the homeless, in which she listed numerous communities in the San Fernando Valley and across the city that needed more volunteers.

“Everybody wants to say, ‘well, what can I do?’ Well, this is an example of what you can do,” Bass said about volunteering for the count.

“Frankly, the only way we’re really going to get a handle on this crisis is if we all have skin in the game, and that’s what tonight is — skin in the game,” she said during a press conference Tuesday night at LA Family Housing’s headquarters.

Bass and others stressed that getting an accurate count of unhoused people is critical for securing funding from the federal government to pay for housing and other services.

L.A. Councilmember Nithya Raman, who chairs the council’s Housing and Homelessness Committee, said there’s a collective sense of urgency among city, county and local nonprofit leaders, but “no amount of urgency is enough to end homelessness without money from the federal government.”

“And that is why I want … to make sure that we’re getting an accurate count of who is living on our city and our county streets,” Raman said. “We need to use this data to ask for every dollar that we deserve here in Los Angeles.”

LAHSA officials said they would have enough volunteers, but only the unfolding hours after darkness will show how things turn out.

The actual numbers and data gathered during these three nights, by volunteers throughout the county, are not expected be announced for several months.

The difficulty of counting the homeless, and past problems with the LAHSA-overseen count, have led to criticism of the annual count. Those criticisms grew when data from the 2022 Homeless Count was released last September that showed no homeless people were found in Northwest Venice, a community with many homeless individuals.

It turned out to be an error, caused when no data was recorded for an entire census tract. The mistake cast doubt on news that the rest of the Westside had seen a 40% decrease in homelessness since the previous homeless count conducted by LAHSA in 2020.

Bass has stepped in recently, apparently to address criticisms of the homeless count that have persisted in recent years. LAHSA, which is in charge of conducting the homeless count, hired a new chief executive officer on Monday, Jan. 23, a day before the start of this week’s three-day count.

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, who became the fourth leader of countywide LAHSA in the past year, was a member of Bass’s mayoral transition team and is being brought in during a time of criticism. She recently helped Bass place 213 homeless people in Venice in housing as part of Bass’s new Inside Safe program.

LAHSA understands concerns over past mistakes and growing calls for more accurate data, said Emily Vaughn Henry, deputy chief information officer for the agency.

Several changes are being tried in this year’s count. LAHSA has hired a demographer and statisticians to review the count’s data. Vaughn Henry said the goal is to “see how we can start using that data to inform our council members, so there’s confidence and there’s transparency in the data we’re putting out there.”

Also this year they will use a new application developed by Esri, the GIS-driven mapping and data company based in Redlands, which is used in more than 50 homeless counts in the U.S.

A homeless camp along Cumpston street next to the North Hollywood Metro Red Line recently. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Related links

Homeless count: Experts tweak methodology this year, but it remains a mammoth task
LA County’s homeless agency hires CEO with blessing of Mayor Karen Bass
LA County homeless count to begin with huge expectations, political tailwinds
Q&A: Newsom’s sprawling CARE Court rethinks mental-health services. Can it work for homeless?

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